Thanks to his effortless grace and a good number of front flips, Norwegian Stein Eriksen, is often considered the father of freestyle skiing. With a solid Utah connection and an Olympic legacy, Stein forever shaped our sport…
Downhill skiing was a fixture of Eriksen's youth, though he was forced to enjoy it in secret with the onset of World War II when Nazis occupied Norway and banned skiing to avoid large gatherings. Eriksen and his friends would organize clandestine slalom races in hidden forest glades to assuage their passion for two-planking. Skiing on the sly helped Eriksen to secure a nomination to the 1948 Norwegian Olympic Team. Eriksen became Norway’s slalom champion in 1949 and went on to earn a bronze medal in the 1950 World Championships in Aspen, Colorado.
Eriksen had been hard at work perfecting a new turning technique called the reverse-shoulder. This maneuver helped him slice between the gates of slalom courses at daunting speeds. Before long, he stood atop the Winter Olympic podium in 1952 with a silver medal on his neck for slalom and a gold for his winning giant slalom run. The thrill of competition kept Eriksen on the racing circuit until he earned an unprecedented three gold medals at the 1954 F.I.S. World Championships in Åre, Sweden for slalom, giant slalom, and combined—the first skier to ever clinch such glory.
Eriksen reached the peak of his racing career when skiing was enjoying a surge of popularity in the states. Ski hills, rope tows, and town tows were popping up all across foothills and mountainsides in America by the late 1930s. As rope tows gave way to lifts, the sport enjoyed increasingly more exposure and eager new students. Prior to achieving his three World Championship titles, Eriksen immigrated to the United States in 1953 with a hankering to share and spread skiing around America.
While still ski racing for Norway, Eriksen first introduced skiers to his parallel turns and fluid technique on the slopes of America’s first ski resort, Sun Valley. He then climbed the ranks of ski instructors at Boyne Mountain in Michigan in 1954, eventually landing a management position before heeding the siren call to head west and retire from competitive skiing. He turned his attention to promoting and sharing the sport of skiing all across the states.
In 1956 he relocated to Heavenly, California to act as the Ski School Director until 1958. He would often put his gymnastic skills on display, performing flips, aerials and tricks, to promote skiing and ski areas. His engaging personality led him to great success as a ski instructor, and he essentially invented the Director of Skiing position, going on to serve in ski schools and management at Aspen Highlands and Snowmass in Colorado and Sugarbush in Vermont.
Eriksen finally settled down and planted roots in Park City, Utah in the late 1960’s. He was directly involved in the development and establishing the layout of Park City Ski Area (now Park City Mountain). His prestige and celebrity helped cement the town of Park City as a popular winter sports mecca, and shortly thereafter the U.S. Ski Team made Park City their permanent headquarters in 1974.
Over his six decades as a professional skier, Stein helped develop many teaching techniques and modalities. His charisma and style helped people realize skiing wasn’t just a sport, it was a lifestyle. It’s important to remember that as he cascaded down the hill with effortless fluidity, blonde hair flowing, he was sporting stiff and narrow skis with no sidecut and little flex with ankle-topping leather boots. His piercing blue eyes and signature Norwegian sweater were as impressionable as his passion for skiing.
Wherever he went, Stein would captivate skiers with his gravity-defying aerial tricks and maneuvers. He would often perform tricks at scheduled intervals for many of the mountains where he worked. He is credited with executing the first front flip or forward somersault on skis, and his daring acts laid the foundation for the inverted aerial feats we enjoy at freestyle events today.
In 1981 Edgar Stern hired Eriksen on as the Director of Skiing while making moves to establish Deer Valley Resort. Alongside Stern, the two envisioned a resort where luxury and skiing allowed guests to completely escape and relax. He and Stern shared a vision for creating the most luxurious ski resort in the country, and the beautiful mid-mountain Stein Eriksen Lodge was named in his honor. You can learn more about the history of Deer Valley Resort here.
Eriksen passed away in his home in Park City at the age of 88 in 2015. He had served as the Director of Skiing at Deer Valley for over 35 years, allowing his signature warmth, charisma, and appreciation for skiing to shape the resort’s ethos and brand.
In 2018 on December 11—Eriksen's birthday—the former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt named the day Stein Eriksen Day. His influence on skiing in Utah and beyond continues to shape the trajectory of our beloved sport. If you're feeling frisky, lock your knees together, keep your chest level, and try to emulate the joy and grace that Eriksen embodied.
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